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19 December, 2017

A Pyrrhic victory for Modi

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has reinforced its position as the country’s largest political party by retaining its grip on Gujarat and snatching control of Himachal Pradesh from the Congress in the State Assembly elections, the results of which were announced on Monday.

Modi had to pay a high price, in personal as well as political terms, for the party’s sixth successive win in Gujarat, which is his home state, albeit with a reduced margin. 

Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are among half a dozen states where there is a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress for power. While Gujarat has been under the BJP’s belt continuously since 1995, in Himachal the two parties have been alternating in power since 1990.

The Congress having won the last elections in Himachal, going by the established pattern, it was the BJP’s turn this time. It had little difficulty in beating the Congress as the outgoing government had invited serious charges of corruption. 

The situation in Gujarat was quite different. The anti-Muslim riots that took place soon after Modi became the Chief Minister of the state in December 2001 had led to a Hindu consolidation and created an impression that the BJP was now unbeatable.

According to official figures, 1,044 persons were killed and about 2,500 injured in the riots, and 223 persons were reported missing. Of the dead, 790 were Muslims. In one of the worst incidents, a Hindu mob armed with machetes attacked and killed Ehsan Jaffri, a former Congress member of Parliament, at his residence where many Muslim women had taken refuge.

The rise of Hindu communalism alarmed the state Congress leadership and it pusillanimously settled for a soft Hindutva line. 

Anandiben Patel, whom Modi had chosen as his successor when he became the Prime Minister, proved unequal to the task. She was therefore removed, and Vijay Rupani appointed as chief minister. He didn’t fare any better. 

An agitation by the Patidar community seeking reservation in the services and a movement by Dalits against the violence unleashed on members of the community on false charges of killing cows threw up leaders who were ready to challenge Hindutva frontally. 

Ahead of the elections, Rahul Gandhi personally took charge of the Congress party’s campaign. He dented the Hindutva facade by bringing Patidar leader Hardik Patel, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and Backward Classes leader Alpesh Thakor together on the side of the Congress. 

Displaying a degree of gravitas not seen before, Rahul Gandhi took on Modi, plying him with questions and challenging his claims about what he had done in Gujarat as Chief Minister for 12 years and at the Centre for the last three and a half years. Modi responded by stepping up his attacks on Rahul and the Nehru-Gandhis. Talk about Gujarat, not about me, Rahul told him sharply.

Modi drafted the services of many of his Cabinet colleagues and Hindutva’s new crop of Chief Ministers to supplement his efforts.

The contrast between the dignified manner in which Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had campaigned in the first three general elections, treating rival party leaders with respect, and the way Modi runs down leaders of other parties is too stark to be missed. 

The level to which Modi stooped to keep his home state with his party makes the Gujarat outcome a Pyrrhic victory. As early as last October he had started unabashedly pandering to parochial sentiments, telling a party rally the Nehru-Gandhis had always disliked Gujarat and the Gujaratis. 

The campaign touched the nadir when Modi accused Congress of seeking Pakistan’s help to install Amed Patel, a Muslim, as Gujarat’s Chief Minister. He alleged that a conspiracy in this regard was held at the residence of a former Congress minister Mani Shankar Aiyar.

What actually happened was that Aiyar, who was a career diplomat before joining politics, held a dinner party in honour of former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, a friend since their days together at Cambridge. Among the guests were former Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who too is a former diplomat, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, two former Army chiefs and a host of other ex-diplomats.

In a palpable attempt to give a communal colour to the alleged conspiracy Modi mentioned the names of just two of the dinner guests: Ansari, a Muslim, and Manmohan Singh, a Sikh. 

A win is a win, whatever the circumstances surrounding it. Modi and the BJP can derive satisfaction from the fact that they have snatched one more state from the Congress. However, the lesson to be drawn from the outcome of the elections in the two states is that, as of now, their hope of a Congress-free India is a pipe dream. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 19, 2017.

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